The way people want to work is constantly evolving. Driven by needs that are sometimes not provided by a permanent placement, for example, flexible working arrangements or gaining experience without a need to commit to a company, more people today seek greater control over the way they work.
As a result, the contingent workforce or gig economy is accelerating. In Singapore, 82% of free agents do so by choice, a much higher proportion relative to other developed countries such as Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom. Globally, 64% of free agents choose to join the contingent workforce because it allows them the ability to organise their job around their lives.
At the same time, especially in the last few years, we have seen more companies in Singapore and the Asia Pacific increase hiring of this workforce; in fact, the region is home to the largest percentage of contingent workers in the world, at 34%. To give some perspective, there are about 50 million free agents in the United States alone, comprising 33% of the country’s workforce.
What is allowing this phenomenon to take place is in a way, a meeting of needs: Workers now want more control of their work experiences, whilst companies are constantly refining hiring policies, even automating work to stem rising labour costs, or to fill a skills gap that may not typically be available in the permanent workforce.
In the Asian context, this is a really big shift from the long-held belief that a job is for life. So what has caused workers in Singapore and Asia Pacific to have this shift, and to embrace contingent working over permanent jobs?
Embracing the gig economy lifestyle
Today, many workers have chosen the gig economy career. For them, it is no longer a career path taken out of hardship, but a decision they have made for themselves with confidence, for a deliberate choice. This can be attributed to several reasons.
Firstly, the tenures of contingent and permanent workers are equalising. There is very little difference today in how long individuals stay at a company. According to our survey with C-suite executives in Asia Pacific, average tenures of permanent workers are getting shorter, with half of an organisation’s workforce in Singapore leaving within three years. With this, one can gather that contingent workers and companies now view that contingent work is just as stable as permanent work.
Secondly, there is a shift in the thinking that contingent talent is valuable only for administrative and support functions, or limited to certain professions such as insurance agents, or freelance designers. A sizeable proportion of contingent openings are for senior leadership positions. C-suite leaders in Asia Pacific report that nearly half of the contingent workers hired were for mid-and-senior level positions. Singapore sees the highest expected growth in this area compared with other Asian markets, with 34% of contingent workers in senior level positions.
Thirdly, contingent work is skilled work. More than half the organisations in Asia Pacific surveyed said that they hire contingent workers to fill skill requirements that are typically not available in the permanent workforce. This means that contingent workers today not only have the option of getting quality jobs, they also have greater control and ownership over how they integrate work with their personal lives and passions.
Contingent working is the new normal
Our survey also revealed that one in four C-suite leaders reported that contingent workers make up more than 30% of their overall workforce– a 13% increase from the previous year.
Moreover, contingent workers surveyed said that they are happy with their work arrangements, with 64% said to be satisfied with their current employment situation overall, and 63% satisfied with their work-life balance. 61% also reported seeing contingent working as a lifetime commitment.
It is obvious that individuals working as free agents or independent contractors, feel liberated from conventional thinking around permanent placements, and now enjoy not being limited to one employer and can pick and choose their projects, gaining a more comprehensive experience along the way from assignments in different companies and sectors.
Indeed, independence, flexibility and growth opportunities offered in contingent working can lead to a successful and fulfilling career.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Peter Hamilton is the Vice President & Regional Director for APAC at Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group. He is a respected thought leader for the human capital industry. He is passionate about the future of work and understands that the way talent wants to work, and the way organisations are engaging talent has fundamentally changed. With 20 years of experience as a practitioner in the field, Peter is equipped with practical, applicable, and real-world knowledge that enables him to advise clients on how to align their talent strategy with their business strategy.